A company rebounds after learning hard lessons from COVID-19 outbreak

Blake Farmer Jun 8, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
The sales team at Dunlap & Kyle sits just outside General Manager Adam Waldrup's office, and most of them contracted COVID-19, with the first confirmed case April 2. Blake Farmer/WPLN News

A company rebounds after learning hard lessons from COVID-19 outbreak

Blake Farmer Jun 8, 2020
The sales team at Dunlap & Kyle sits just outside General Manager Adam Waldrup's office, and most of them contracted COVID-19, with the first confirmed case April 2. Blake Farmer/WPLN News

In the Nashville, Tennessee, warehouse of Dunlap & Kyle, forklifts honk their way through the heavy scent of rubber amid 250,000 square feet of consumer and commercial grade tires. But the tire distributor’s outbreak, which began in late March, started in the wood-paneled office of General Manager Adam Waldrup.

He developed cold-like symptoms, got tested and found out he had COVID-19.

“It’s just so hard to figure out the source,” he said. “We have so many people in and out of here. We have traveling salesmen, which at that point we’d brought in. But we deliver tires, so there’s just no telling.”

The corporate office in Batesville, Mississippi, abruptly messaged everyone in Nashville to pack up their stuff, go home and get tested. But it was already too late. Waldrup’s wife, 2-year-old son and mother-in-law fell ill.

And the virus had already infected a majority of the sales team, which sits in a bullpen of cubicles just outside Waldrup’s office, often meeting around his long conference table.

Waldrup points out the employees who tested positive: about a dozen workers, 1 in 6 employees. Waldrup said they’ve had to get comfortable with sharing lots of otherwise private health information.

Adam Waldrup, general manager of tire distributor Dunlap & Kyle, donates plasma after recovering from COVID-19. He was the first of 12 employees to get sick. All of them are now getting time off to donate plasma, which is used to treat the sickest COVID-19 patients. (Courtesy Adam Waldrup)

At first, no one else was showing symptoms, even those who tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I didn’t notice for the first couple days,” said Tyler Smallwood, who is the IT manager for the office. “It wasn’t until I used some hand sanitizer and it had no smell. I was like, that doesn’t seem right.’”

Most had mild cases, but the oldest — the sales manager — came down with the worst symptoms. Frank Harvey said he left the office on that Thursday afternoon worried about the business and hitting his numbers.

Then, when his temperature spiked and sent him to TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center, he went into survival mode.

“You’ve got all the factors going against you. You’re just a tad bit overweight, and you’re past 60,” he said. “So it’s pretty scary.”

Harvey recovered. So did his colleagues and their households. And now they’re back at it, mostly focused on selling tires but trying to be more diligent about infection control than before.

They’re still not wearing masks, but they have them handy. And a clerical employee is tasked with taking everyone’s temperature in the morning when they arrive.

All these new protocols have had companies turning to the National Federation of Independent Business for guidance.

“The new reality is setting in, and it’s tiring,” said Elizabeth Milito, senior counsel for the NFIB.

The NFIB is receiving basic but complicated inquiries: Whom do you have take temperatures? Or do you even really want to go that far if it’s not required? And how private can you even be at this point about everyone’s personal health?

The business group has been offering guidance to all kinds of companies, from warehouses to nail salons. Milito said everyone she’s working with is eager and optimistic, telling her “we’re just going to try to make lemonade out of lemons and get back to work,” she said.

Dunlap & Kyle is trying to put its experience with COVID-19 to good use. Employees who’ve recovered are getting time off to donate plasma as often as possible. The plasma is being used around the world to help the sickest COVID-19 patients in hospitals.

Meanwhile, the company has become more comfortable making its experience public. Managers were nervous when they first told customers they were dealing with an outbreak. But the tire shops they work with stuck with them, said salesman Ty Cordray.

“Since we’ve come back, we’ve been busier than we’ve ever been,” he said. “We think it’s because we were honest and upfront.”

Somehow, May was the best month the company has ever had, with business up by 30%. And June is projected to be even better.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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